Disclaimer: In this post I am going to be talking from the perspective of a certain stereotype: that generally men are more drawn towards "rugged" outdoor adventure than women. I know that this isn't always the case, but it is one that I do see frequently. Thus I am going to write from this perspective. If it doesn't apply to your particular situation, you can ignore it.
A month ago I was visiting a friend while attending OR. We were talking about backpacking trips. He is married and has growing kids. He loves to get outdoors. The problem he is facing these days is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to find backpacking partners. All of his friends are just too busy with life to schedule trips with.
What was going through my mind while we were having the conversation was, "why not take your wife and kids?" You have a pre-built hiking/backpacking partner, you just don't know it yet. So I posed the question: Why don't more men go backpacking with their wives? Or to turn the question around, why don't more women want to go backpacking with their husbands? This sparked an interesting conversation that kept me thinking about it for days afterwards. Why can't we as men share something that we love so dearly with the ones we love?
One thing I hear from a lot of men is that they can't wait until their kids get a little older so that they can take them camping and backpacking. I rarely hear them saying they can't wait to take their wives backpacking. Why do men anticipate being outdoors with their kids more than their spouses? Probably because kids are full of awe and wonder with the great outdoors, and can appreciate the outdoors for what it is - a big adventure in fresh air with people they love. With spouses on the other hand, an unknown experience like backpacking, especially when one person is reluctant, can be a real relationship tester. Nobody wants that when all they are trying to have is a little recharge time in the outdoors.
Here are the top reasons (from our own experience) why I think wives often are not interested backpacking, and some thoughts on what has worked for us:
1. They are worried that they will be uncomfortable (cold, wet, smelly, dirty, etc.)
This was a big one for Renee. She does NOT like being cold, wet, or smelly. Dealing with this has been a combination of research, gear/clothing purchases, education, and acclimatization (i.e. getting used to it). Researching the right gear to buy, and then buying it was an important step. Reassuring her that being cold is actually a problem, not something we just have to suffer through. Learning that being wet (and having wet feet) is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you are not cold and have the right clothing. Using merino wool to help with the smell, etc.
We took the time to slowly build trust in the gear, and to acclimatize to being in the outdoors in all conditions. This has been critical. Also, when problems did arise (and they will), reassuring her that the problem will be figured out - and then making changes to our systems to help remedy it - helped to build trust.
Of course we all know that these discomforts are inevitable at some point. We will get cold, wet, smelly, and dirty. It is your approach towards dealing with them that will make all the difference.
Ultimately she needs to feel like you understand, that you listen, and that you are taking care of her needs. If you can achieve that in the outdoors, then you have it made.
2. They don't want to physically work and/or sweat
For some this may not be an issue, for others it might (it was for us). Renee was never really one for vigorous physical activity. This has largely been overcome through acclimatization (and proper clothing selection). By gradually building up our hiking mileage and Renee slowly building up her fitness, we have largely overcome this issue.
Having the reward of breathtaking beauty, only attainable by hiking to a nice location really helps a lot too. People are willing to put in a little work for some reward. The fact that Renee appreciates natural beauty made the work worth it for her. Also knowing that few others will experience this without putting in the effort brings a sense of accomplishment, which is another reward for hard work.
3. They don't want to do the trip prep
Preparing for a backpacking trip can be daunting for someone who is not particularly inclined to go in the first place. The solution to this is easy: Do all the work yourself. Do all of the planning, shopping, food preparation, and packing. When on the trail, do all of the camp setup and cooking. Make it so easy for her that all she has to do is show-up. If she feels like she is getting a break from all of those things, she may be more interested in joining you.
Once she is hooked and is more into backpacking she will want to help.
4. They don't feel like backpacking is a holiday/vacation/downtime
It may feel like a lot of work, with the potential for discomfort and danger. Don't sell it like a holiday. And make sure to promise her a weekend of downtime, the way she likes it (Renee likes puttering around the house) as well. Over time, you may find that she will appreciate the time spent with you in the outdoors in a way she hadn't imagined.
5. They have fear of _ (wild animals, lightening, bad guys...)
This is largely fear of the unknown. We put ourselves at risk every day by doing all kinds of activities such as driving, flying, crossing the street, riding our bikes, etc. The reason why don't have fear of those activities is that we take the necessary precautions, we are willing to accept the risks, and we familiar with them. We are not willing to let those known quantities stop us from getting on with life. The same can be done in the backcountry. If we educate ourselves and take the necessary precautions, we can minimize our risk. Then all we need to do is become familiar and comfortable with the risk.
6. They have health issues (knees, backs, feet, etc.)
This can be a tough one. Some health issues can be overcome by making changes to our diet and lifestyle. Others can't. I am always inspired to see people with seemingly insurmountable issues rise above them and do something amazing. Be inspired to figure out ways around these issues. It may take a lot of work, but it can be worth it in huge ways. As a spouse, helping out in any way you can (research, support, encouragement, etc.) will go a long way.
Many times the solutions to these problems are not what the doctors are telling you to do. Don't be afraid to be unconventional if you have to. This can be a lot of work, but the payback can be huge.
7. They may say, "It's just not my thing"
This is a non-specific catch-all phrase that covers one or more specific issues. If your wife says "it's just not my thing", gently try to figure out what the root issues really are. Once you know what they are, you can devise a more strategic plan to help her to overcome them.
What you don't want to do is make her feel like you are trying to force her to do something she does not want to. You may have to plan long term and do things gently, almost "covertly". Maybe suggest going for a hike together. Then do it on a regular basis, gradually building fitness, friendship, relationship, and trust in the outdoors. Then maybe combine the hiking with some car camping in a tent, and slowly building from there. Take your time.
As the husband, the best advice I can give you is to practice peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control through this process. If you are able to pull that off, then you may just have a permanent backpacking partner before you know it.
A few lightweight backpacking spouses that inspire us: